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Not long before Prokofiev started the lengthy negotiations that were the precursor to his writing Romeo and Juliet, he had taken on a job composing the music for a new film.
It was directed by Aleksandr Faintsimmer (who would go on to direct The Gadfly) and represented an early break for the future ‘People’s Artist of the USSR, 1977’, the comic actor Erast Garin. Nowadays, the film, which is known in the USA as The Czar Wants to Sleep, rarely troubles the silver screen. However, its score – and the subsequently rescued suite – have become firm favourites. The most notable success has been for the Troika (4th movement), which has become a seasonal favourite. So much so, in fact, that it was borrowed by rocker Greg Lake (he of Emerson, Lake and Palmer) for his Christmas classic ‘I Believe in Father Christmas’. Prokofiev produced two different versions of the suite, one with baritone soloist, the other with saxophone. It was to prove to be one of the composer’s last Paris premieres before his return to the USSR in 1936.
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; Seiji Ozawa (conductor). Deutsche Grammophon: 4637612.
Illustration: Mark Millington